Chapter Twenty-Four - Recursat
The cold, vicious blackness caged him in a prison of knives. Harry screamed, only to feel the sound bounce off thread after thread after thread after thread and come back, magnified until he thought it would break him. One of the horrible hands found his arm. He shirked, whimpering—
Severus’ eyes flashed murderously. “Get out of here! This has nothing to do with you!” His anger drove deep Harry’s fear. The stone laboratory was stifling. Three burners went at once, each topped with a cauldron spitting heavy, viscous splatters. Harry forced himself to stop shaking, to breathe.
“I thought you were in trouble. And this has everything to do with me.”
“Oh, for god’s sake, I thought I told you I didn’t want to see you again, you daft child.” Severus’ head snapped up at his Gran’s voice. She was glaring at Harry, tapping her fingers on one folded arm. The memory Philia scribbled in a notebook, a Severus no more than twelve years old carefully sketching an equipment diagram next to her. He paused to ask something in Latin, and she responded in kind.
“Avia.” She jumped. Sev’s lower lip hung open, and the rage was gone from his eyes. He blinked, once, as if trying to dissuade himself from believing what he saw but not quite willing to let it go.
“Mei puellus,” Philia pulled out of herself, staring. Harry took a step back – he was as much a non-entity to them as they were to their other selves. Philia ran a transparent hand over Severus’ emaciated one, looked up his arm to his sunken face, the gaping collar of his robe, the greasy hair falling in his eyes. He hung his head, refusing to meet her gaze. The little boy hadn’t lived up to his potential. Phantom wetness glistened on his Gran’s lip. “Terminal-stage Sanguinoform Pseudoschizophrenia,” she croaked. Sadly, he nodded.
“I thought I’d found the problem.”
“The Brampton scrolls?” He nodded again, pallid cheeks growing paler. “Nepos, you knew…”
“I changed the formula.” He switched suddenly to Latin. Harry could make out a few words: “distill”, “excess”, “blood”, “dead”. His Gran looked heartbroken. She waved a hand at him and Sev knelt. Her hand passed through his hair. “Paeniteo, Avia. Defectio sum.”
“Non, non. I thought of the same thing.” It did nothing to ease the pain in his face. Philia gave Harry a sidelong glance. “Quid homo nomen est?”
“Harry Potter.” She touched a finger under his chin. It went through, but Sev lifted his head with it.
“Tui maritus est?”
Very softly, Philia asked, “Homo redamas?”
“Valde.” His clear eyes flicked to Harry and back. Harry focused his attention on the cauldrons – he didn’t fancy his glasses fogging up in front of Philia.
“Did Eversor hurt you?” He hung his head again. Philia’s mouth tightened and her eyes went round; phantom tears shifted but didn’t fall. “Why didn’t you tell me, my love?” Severus’ eyes narrowed at Harry, but only for an instant.
“He would have tried to hurt you while you were sick.” The scared little boy that lived in Severus Snape came out in full as he sat back and hugged his knees. Once again he switched to Latin. They spoke so quickly Harry couldn’t make out more than the odd word. The solid Philia was stirring a potion with each hand now, occasionally lifting up a viscous ladleful and letting it dribble back in to check the consistency. Goggles covered her eyes.
“Oculi, mei puellus.” Sev pulled his own down from his head. She measured a pinhead’s worth of a crystalline white powder and tipped it into one cauldron. Phosphorous bright light burst forth. Harry covered his eyes, but he could still see the small mushroom cloud coming up from the middle of the brew. They had definitely never done anything like that in class. His Severus shielded his eyes and squinted but otherwise didn’t react.
“I know, Avia. Does it matter?” He grasped the air where her chair’s arm would be. Philia’s mouth twisted at a sad angle. She tried to stroke the back of his hand.
“Tell me what you remember.” Severus started to open his mouth when Harry’s spine prickled. He didn’t have time to shout before the blackness swarmed over him. Poppy was screaming at him, something about endangering Harry. He couldn’t help but shout back. Her words vibrated on his skin, too loud, far too loud.
“Do you want me to march in there and tell him you don’t give a damn about him? Because if you did you’d have told him this a long time ago, Severus, a long time.” He started to scream that she was wrong, it was for his own good, she wouldn’t dare when he fell, panting, on a patch of snow. Quakes running through his body, he turned his head. Severus knelt, wide-eyed and waxy and silent, staring straight ahead.
“Sev?” Harry croaked. The badgery head turned by degrees and fixed on him. Slowly, Sev got to his unsteady feet. His arms hung limp. Harry, hugging his chest, looked up. A group of twenty, maybe thirty people in black stood in the middle of a small graveyard. The same wrought iron fencing that the oak tree had impaled its trunk upon surrounded it. Severus, who looked no older than he had when Philia read him “Homecoming”, stood at the front, bare head bowed, gloved fingers tearing each other to shreds. His black funeral cloak was wrapped tight around him. Quiet tears pitted the soft snow at his feet. Harry realised the only sound was the shickcrunch of shovels digging into loose earth and tossing it in a grave. He spotted Professor Dumbledore near the edge of the group, a wizened old couple he suspected were the Flamels towards the back, Bartemius Crouch and his wife a short way off. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, both very young, hovered in the second row back. They clung to each other. Sev didn’t react when Lucius tenderly stroked his back. Harry didn’t recognize many others. Perditus, a few streaks of grey in his dismal brown hair, stood a couple of steps from his younger son; Eversor was so close to his father their shoulders touched. His face was blank, controlled. Well, of course. His protector was still alive. Alone of the group he wore a Muggle suit. He squirmed suddenly, drawing the tight shirt collar away from his throat. Whenever Harry had seen him before he’d worn wizard’s robes. Maybe it was only in public that he had to dress to his station.
Severus saw him too. “Harry,” he whispered tremulously, “get us out of here.” Eversor looked around, puzzled. His eyes, like flawed aquamarines, brightened when he recognised his little brother. He stepped out of his body, a puckish smile twisting his parted lips. Sev stepped back, shoulders tensed, breathing a little too fast. “Harry, please. I want to go home.”
“I don’t know how.” Harry truly didn’t know how to get a second person safely out of a Pensieve. That wasn’t the sort of thing most eighteen-year-old wizards knew – there weren’t supposed to be two people in a Pensieve. Sev hit a tall headstone and wheezed. Harry did the only thing he could think of and blocked Sev’s body with his own. “Leave him alone!” His body numbed for an instant when Eversor walked through him.
“You are home, Severus.” Sev whimpered when ghostly lips brushed across his. He turned his head away, eyes screwed shut, lips pulled into his mouth. “Where else would you be?”
“Away from you!”
“Get away from him, Eversor.” Harry stood ready to fight. He just didn’t quite know how to fight. Would a hex work? Or would it pass through and hurt Severus? Or, even worse, would it bounce around the Pensieve doing damage he didn’t want to imagine? Helplessness started to override his reckless protectiveness. The elder Snape looked back over his shoulder. Harry felt ill: his thin face shone with adoration, pure pleasure at seeing his sibling all grown up. It was a look Harry expected from Philia. Eversor, somewhere along the way, had lost any concept that what he did was wrong or cruel or unwanted. He was sadistic, vicious, inhuman, all for the love of his little brother.
“This is for his own good.” Severus’ chest shuddered. He started to droop. Eversor turned back to him. “You should go inside, little wizard.” He put out a hand. “I’ll come with you.”
“No!” His dark eyes snapped level with his brother’s. “I refuse to go anywhere with you.” With painful effort he pulled himself to his full height. Severus was an inch taller, Eversor rather broader. He looked mildly amused at his baby brother talking back to him. Suddenly, his ghostly hand shot out and tried to grasp Sev’s hair. Severus’ skeletal form went taut. He whimpered. Harry stormed through Eversor. His nerves shrieked as they went dead but he stood there, sheathed in the transparent memory of a madman.
“He can’t hurt you.” Harry leaned close enough to whisper. “He’s not real, Severus. He’s part of the Pensieve. Nothing is going to happen to you.” That thin, birdlike chest fluttered. Eversor regarded Sev with cold concern.
“Of course I’m real.” He licked his thin lips and leaned towards Severus’ ear. “Tell me you love me.”
“Leave me alone, Eversor.”
“Please? Enuntias amas me.” Severus shuddered mightily. His eyes snapped open.
“Why not? You love your brother, don’t you?” Harry shuddered now. He fought back nightmare images that they could be thrust into at any moment.
“I. Hate. You.” Eversor looked genuinely shocked. He stepped back, nearly stumbling over his own feet. Before he could respond another wave of needles washed over Harry—
Hands. Hands, everywhere, hands. Ripping, clawing, tearing, trying to dig chunks out of his soul. He screamed, high and loud, at the masks staring placidly. The world reverberated with mocking laughter. A vengeful growl seeped through the discordant din. Harry saw himself, saw Severus occupy the same space, felt the onslaught of hands from all around, and the unthinkable from—
“Harry, wake up. I can’t hold you.” The hands wouldn’t go away. One held his struggling wrists, the other his back. Seizures hovered on the horizon of reality. They threatened to overtake him as the hard, cool floor came up to meet his spine. Stone leeched the heat from his body. Death was coming, and he would welcome it if only for release from the hands. Vaguely, he could make out a lined, ashen skull in front of him. Unsettled black eyes followed his movements. Harry yelped when one of the hands thrust itself into his robe. It wrenched part of him away. “Wingardium leviosa!” The cold floor disappeared. So this is what dying feels like. It was rather similar to being levitated, he thought in some far corner of his brain. Twitching, he settled on something soft. Something wooden landed on the bedside table. It was the same sound he’d heard before Eversor… Hands rushed upon him from the edges of insanity. “Harry—“
“Let me go! Severus… help me…” one of the hands touched his face and he shrieked. It vanished. Where was Severus? Why wouldn’t he make them go away? Harry curled up on himself. Something like footsteps went far away, and a moment later came back. No, no, just leave me alone. Don’t touch me… Yet another of the hands wrapped around the back of his neck and straightened his head. A slim glass vial pressed between his lips and he sputtered. “SEVERUS! HELP ME!! HELP – ME!!!”
“I am.” The vial tipped into his open, screaming mouth and he choked. Some of the bitter, burning stuff trickled down his throat. He jerked free and buried his spinning head in the pillow.
The tremors stopped.
Hands still tried to reach him, but it felt like they were groping through a thick pile of blankets. Harry breathed hard. Gradually, the grasping, grabbing, pinching lessened and finally faded away. He waited. They might try to come back. Yet, they didn’t. After a long while he looked up. Severus stood by the bed, looking down at him with such utter, utter sadness. “You’re not to go in there anymore,” he whispered.
“I’ll destroy it before I let you suffer that again.” Harry didn’t try to argue. He was too weak. His tongue was buried in a mound of cotton wool. Quietly, he watched Severus mix a large infusion of wormwood and add asphodel root. Much to his surprise, the man divvied it lopsidedly between two goblets. Careful not to touch him, he urged Harry to sit up.
“We both need rest.” Harry took the cup with unsteady hands and let it sit in his lap. He’d leaned against the headboard at some point. “Promise me that, whatever happens, you’ll stay away from my Pensieve.”
“No.” From the mix of anger and hurt on Sev’s drawn face, that was the wrong answer.
“It’s too dangerous for you to go in there again. Promise me.”
“Are you… back in?” It was difficult to talk. Stringing words together hurt his head.
“Do I have a choice?” Not if he wanted to live. Now that the hands had found him again, though, Harry didn’t much want to live himself. They might be happy dead. Then they could be together, and the Death Eaters would never bother anyone ever again, and they could see Albus and Philia and Hagrid and his parents. A tiny, nagging voice in his head screamed that it wasn’t right for him to die yet. It wouldn’t shut up. Harry looked at Sev. On second glance, he didn’t seem too eager to give up the ghost.
“What’s… wrong… with it?” He was getting a little sleepy. Or a little suicidal. He couldn’t tell which. Either one, just to make the hands stay away.
“I don’t know, not precisely. Corrupt memory filaments seem to have affected the rest of the threads. They’ve been imbued somehow. It may have to do with the variant potion.” He frowned. “I don’t remember Eversor ever speaking Latin, though.” He looked pensive, and a little worried, but with a glint of clinical interest. “Promise me.” Harry stared at his algae-blue Draught. He nodded without really meaning to. Severus nudged the goblet. “Drink, go to sleep.” There was only a little in Harry’s cup. If only to keep away the horrible groping hands he stretched out and, fixing his eyes on Sev, lifted the cup to his lips.
He woke with a start. The other side of the bed was mangled: duvet shoved to one side, sheet torn, littered with feathers from the shredded pillow. Severus must have had an attack under sedation. Harry dug fingers into his arm, hard, furious with himself for not being there to get him through it. Looking around, he saw Sev fully dressed, sitting at the desk. Fawkes was next to him, occasionally singing a soft note or two. One long, thin hand cupped the edge of the Pensieve, thumb dangling down. Now and then he twitched.
Harry got up, surprised to find himself in nothing but pants and Slytherin Quidditch Cup shirt (he hadn’t worn that in months, had he?), and tiptoed over to the desk. He gave Severus a good deal of physical leeway; the hands were still strong in his mind. For a long time, probably an hour or more, Sev sat, numb, eyes flickering, lips occasionally working silently. A few times he cried out and flinched. Harry nearly thrust his fingers in the swirling silver mass again. Eversor, Death Eaters, Aurors, Voldemort, Lucius Malfoy, there was no telling what horrors he was reliving. Harry wondered nervously if he would come out of it.
Suddenly, Fawkes lifted his wings and landed on the back of Sev’s armchair. He blinked at Harry, long tail feathers touching the floor. In a moment Sev’s thumb slid out of the bowl. Harry could breathe again. He waited for any other movement. Slowly, gradually, Sev slid open a drawer of his desk and extracted quill and parchment. He slid his glasses on with a determined, aloof air. Severus wrote for a long time, then sketched, then wrote some more. Harry tried to read a little of it, but it was the same technical Latin he’d seen in Philia’s laboratory. The sketch was much the same. Sev finally dropped the quill and turned his eyes to Harry. They glittered. “Perhaps.”
“You got—“ Harry didn’t have a chance to finish. Severus swept out of the chair and, with a look torn between revulsion, terror, and release, he threw the Pensieve hard into the fire. It shattered. Threads crackled and, Harry would have sworn, screamed; he stared at the flames in shock. “Why’d you do that?” Any chance to ask Philia more questions was gone. Sev watched icily for a moment before going to his cabinets and shelves and selecting an array of instruments Harry had only ever seen used in the Pensieve’s depths. “Sev?”
Severus glanced back. “Gran doesn’t have blue eyes. Clean off my desk.” His voice was flat, but steeled in a way Harry had never heard. Harry quickly picked up the parchments and quill and inkwell, and moved a few books. Just for good measure he retrieved his wand and cast a quick cleansing charm. He’d barely finished before Severus began arranging his armload of unfamiliar implements on the polished surface.
“Can I help?” Severus shook his head. The cauldron he set down was an unusually bright one. It looked like it was made of metal’s ghost (if a ghost could be so solid and real), and was no larger than his fist. “What kind of cauldron’s that?”
“Platinum.” Eep. So that’s what he bought. “They’re only used for extremely delicate substances.” Severus sounded a little distracted. He grabbed the parchments from Harry’s hand (much to Harry’s surprise – he didn’t realize he still had them) and read them over. His lips moved silently as he did. Harry hadn’t seen that since they’d worked together to ferret out Voldemort’s attack strategy. He prayed Sev’s Pensieve memory was clearer than the one in his skull. Without warning Snape threw the stack on the desk, stalked to the shelves again, and picked up several jars, bottles, and vials. The last he retrieved most certainly wasn’t filled with mercury.
“That’s not going in there.” Sev ignored Harry’s protest and set the containers down in a careful row. “You’re not taking more of that stuff!”
“It shall either kill or cure. At this stage there’s very little consequence.”
“Harry?” Sev sat down, haughty gaze locked on Harry. “I’m perfectly capable of handling Unicorn Blood safely.” He pulled on a thin pair of gloves and set goggles on top of his greasy head.
“I don’t want you to die.”
Long lashes fluttered. Severus focused on the array in front of him. “May I borrow your wand? I have to open a stasis jar.”
“Stasis jar?” Severus gently picked up the largest jar. Its metallic contents didn’t move when he tilted it. “At least tell me why you have to use that stuff.”
“To distill the venin. You can’t have antivenin without venin.” He removed his glasses and pulled down the goggles. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not a rank amateur; I’ve used this since I started my research. I shouldn’t have been focusing on whole blood. Useless shite, made it damned well difficult to reconstruct a formula.” Harry was taken aback. Sev had been handling raw Unicorn Blood for months and never said a word. Could that be why he wasn’t allowed to help? He started to protest, but those black eyes met his again and through their protective glass they were… serene. Severus Snape had never been serene in his life as far as Harry knew, but now, about to handle one of the deadliest chemicals known to the wizarding world, he was. Harry handed over the pale holly branch.
“Should I leave you alone?”
“Please don’t,” Sev said, tapping the lid of the stasis jar. Its contents shifted. “I don’t think I could bear it if you went away just yet.”
Harry didn’t leave until he had to go to work. Severus was still poring silently over the platinum cauldron. He’d spent ages breaking down a scant amount of the Unicorn Blood. After the first couple of steps he’d sent Harry to his chair for safety. Carefully, he filled a vial with the blood he’d done god-knows-what to, added two drops of straw-coloured liquid, screwed on a lid, and placed the entire vial in a bizarre round device with holes punched all through the top. He tapped it with Harry’s wand and the thing nearly spun off the desk. Harry yelped and hid behind his hands, convinced the vial would go flying and shatter all over. Sev raised an eyebrow at him. “Simple centripetal force. Haven’t I taught you anything?”
“Oh.” After Hagrid’s logic puzzle, he really ought to have remembered that. It had been too bloody long since Harry had studied Muggle sciences. It might be time for a refresher.
While the blood spun, Sev found an empty vial and, murmuring to Fawkes while stroking the phoenix gently, soon filled it with pearly tears. Harry wondered if Sev hadn’t been going to Dumbledore for ages to get phoenix tears, and if that wasn’t why he had Fawkes now. The spinning disc stopped on its own and, setting the phoenix tears on the desk, Severus gently lifted out the vial and peered at by brilliant white wandlight. It had separated into two layers, silver on bottom and clear pale gold on top. Unfortunately, Harry didn’t see what happened next as he had to reluctantly scrub up for a day in the library. Potions became a lot more interesting when the potion in question could determine his next hundred years.
Sev kept his wand. That was fine, Harry wouldn’t need it much at work. He hurried through the corridor, clutching the hat on his head to keep it in place. Blinding mid-March sunlight made tabby stripes on the rough grey stone. Almost all the snow was gone, and Harry rather imagined the school was a fat, contented cat stretching in the warmth. He’d just reached the library when he realised the after-hours charms were in place. Oh, dear. No wand. Fortunately, Professor Arcadia scurried into the hall a moment later, powdery jam donut clutched in her teeth. “Penny!”
She took the donut out. An avalanche of sugar skittered down her rumpled violet robe. “Morning, Harry. How are you?”
“Not bad. Don’t suppose I could I borrow your wand for a moment…?”
Several minutes (and a promise to give her classes a lecture on his experiences with Voldemort) later, Harry had the library open and ready for the day. He dropped his cloak and hat and realised he hadn’t eaten since breakfast yesterday. Hmm. Well… it wasn’t strictly against the rules to eat in there. He’d just have to make good and sure that Irma didn’t find out. Harry tossed a bit of Floo powder into the enormous library fireplace and asked the house-elves to bring him something tidy.
The first students trickled in an hour before the first classes and found Harry munching contentedly on juice and jam-free donuts. Nadja tiptoed in half an hour later. Her face lit up. “Harry!”
He swallowed the last sweet bite. “Hullo, Nadja.” Much to his surprise it didn’t bother him to see her. There was no guarantee the potion would work, no guarantee it wouldn’t be deadly poison at the first touch, but he’d buoyed himself on hope. She hoisted a stack of heavy Potions books on the desk.
“How’s Professor Snape?” she whispered. A Gryffindor boy nearby heard her and scuttled away with a horrified look. Harry ignored him.
“Not bad today.” Nadja beamed. Harry smiled back. Please, please, please just let the rest of the day go this well. He had a sinking feeling it wouldn’t; Harry crossed his fingers anyway.
“Tell him Mum’s sending me more cherries at Easter.”
“He’ll like that.”
She nodded and played with her cloak clasp. “I have to get to Potions. Professor Corbin’s letting me sort some ingredients for him.” Harry smirked; Sev would have had a stroke if a student looked forward to something he gave for detention. Any student besides Harry, at least.
“I will.” She smiled again. Nadja certainly could be unique when she wanted. It was part of what made her interesting.
Things were more or less clockwork through most of the morning. Students in, students out. York came through on rounds about ten and stopped for a little chat. He’d been down in the kitchens and left Harry a couple of the tiny bacon quiches the house-elves had thrust on him. With luck there would be more at lunch – they were quite tasty. Just after eleven Harry was on top of a ladder in the deserted rows, wondering how Sev was coming along and considering popping his head in the Floo, when Professor McGonagall’s booming voice nearly knocked him on his arse. “All students are to return to their Houses immediately. Do not stop to collect your things. Teachers and staff report to the Great Hall as soon as your classes have been accounted for. Experienced fliers should bring their fastest brooms.”
Ice filled his belly. Harry leaned his head against the top shelf. No, don’t let it be what he feared – knew – it was. Not today. He started to descend as the door banged open. “Potter!” Oh, god, Uden. Her boots clacked staccato on the stone floor. He met her at the desk with a load of books in arm. She yanked them out and dropped them irritably. “You were a Seeker?” He nodded. “Good. You’re airborne. Collect your broom and get to the Great Hall A.S.A.P.” He looked at her. Her face was strained, magic eye rolling frantically. She looked fragile.
“What the Hell are you talking about?” She raised an impatient eyebrow and motioned for him to come with her.
“An unknown number of Death Eaters are on the school grounds. They can’t get into the main castle for the time being but that could change. We’ve got people on the ground assault, but several are in the air. We just don’t have enough skilled fliers at hand. Several of the airborne Death Eaters are wearing Invisibility Cloaks.” Harry felt his icy innards turn to liquid. Death Eaters. At Hogwarts. As surreal as it felt there was no denying the set to Uden’s jaw, or the looks of restrained terror he saw in the eyes of teachers herding their students home. He was suddenly very aware of how tiny Irene was – no more than five feet tall, very probably less – and of the slight controlled tremor in her muscles. Harry had felt the same tremor before: terror, but forced through the Gryffindor forge and tempered into courage. She didn’t seem quite so Slytherin at that moment. “I’m needed out there. Good luck.”
“Good luck,” he echoed weakly as Uden took one hall and he another. His feet moved without instruction. No need to panic, Potter, he told himself as he ran at top speed towards the suite. You’ve defeated them before, you can do it again. He wished he hadn’t eaten all those donuts. Harry burst into the suite, expecting to find Sev still hunched over his desk. Instead, he was standing at the door, Firebolt and 10K in one hand, invisibility cloak in the other. He thrust them at Harry without a word, and reached into his pocket. Harry found his wand in his hand. He started to bolt.
“Wait,” Severus held up a tiny vial of purple liquid. It flashed broken rainbows in the sitting room’s cheery light. “Stage one was successful.” A wide grin broke through Harry’s anxiety. He could hear large cauldrons bubbling frantically through the central doorway. Stage two must not be so delicate. Sev dropped the vial back in his pocket and pulled something else out. Harry flinched and stepped back as hands came close, but they didn’t touch him. Not quite. The slim beaded chain settled on his neck. “Live.”
The steel and copper were comfortable against his chest. Harry staggered a little towards Sev at the urge to lean up and feel those thin, firm lips. No. He couldn’t. He couldn’t bring himself to touch the man. If he did, he’d have to admit that he might not have a chance to do it again. This was neither the place nor the time for that. The hands hovered outside; the masks waited coldly. “I will.” Their eyes met for a hard moment. It hit like a mallet: Severus took Harry’s safety personally, and god help anyone who dared test it. He could feel the devotion, the determination, the trust in that black gaze and it steeled him for whatever might come. From the deepest, hottest part of his guts boiled equal protectiveness. The bastards would touch his Sev over his cold corpse – not that they could get that far. He gave Severus a slow, catlike blink and ran as fast as he could down the hall.
Latin Lexicon For Latin Lovers
Recursat: He returns.
Defectio sum: I am a failure. (I think – anyone who might be able to confirm this would get much virtual chocolate.)
Quid homo nomen est?: What is his name?
Te amat?: He loves you?
Homo redamas?: You love him in return?
Valde: very much
Periculosis est: It’s dangerous.
Enuntias amas me: Say you love me. (Again, not entirely certain on tense.)
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